Insha Allah this finds you in the best of health and Iman.
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Islamic marriage has two sides which are two facets of a single reality.
One facet deals with the inner nature of marriage - the "why" of marriage - the deeper, less self-evident purposes of marriage.
The other is the practical side which seeks to ensure a firm, non-sentimental approach to practical issues which are necessary for a successful negotiation of the difficult path of marriage.
The marriage ceremony (nikah) reflects these two facets.
One facet is the intention which the man and woman make internally within themselves as they recite the marriage contract. This intention must be firm and clear and based upon the understanding of marriage as laid out in the Qur'an:
"It is He who created you from a single soul, And made its mate of like nature in order that you might dwell with her in love...."(7:189) The male and female complete each other - together they make a single self and this is how they must strive to make their lives together - as if they are one being, one person.
The other facet is the legal facet - the fact that marriage is also a contract with attendant rights and obligations which the man and woman fulfil towards one another. It is in this contract that the man and woman can specify terms and conditions of the marriage, if they wish to. By making the practical side upfront and clear there can be no misunderstandings at a later time. The words of the actual contract are as follows:
The woman says: "I have made myself your wife and have accepted the mahr." Then the man responds: "I have accepted the marriage." The words should be recited in Arabic, if possible. If one is unable to recite them in Arabic then a representative (wakeel) recites them on your behalf, as in: "Fatima makes herself your wife....". It should be noted here that the act of marriage is in the hands of the woman - she is the one who does the giving - the man then accepts what she gives.
It is through the nikah (and only through the nikah) that a man and woman become legally permissable to one another for the type of close and intimate relationship signified in marriage.
The mahr is a "free gift" that the man offers to the woman as a token of the seriousness of his intention and his love for her - that he sacrifices something of his substance to her as a gift that is hers to do with as she pleases. The mahr can range from something immaterial such as teaching a verse of the Qur'an to his wife, to a ring, to property or money. The mahr must be agreed upon by the man and woman themselves, not their parents. The mahr is given to the bride - not her parents. The mahr is hers and hers alone and she may return all or a portion of it to her husband, if she so wishes or use it in whatever way she desires without pressure from the husband or either hers or his family.